TODAY -

“yaar, what is the capital of manipur?”

“yaar, what is the capital of manipur?”

Ignorance is bliss. Or is it? If taken in a plain meaning, the proverb “ignorance is bliss” can equate to “a lack of knowledge to a state of happiness”. However, if we see it beyond this plain meaning and view as an ethical matter, then it may lead to another direction.

Very recently, I went for shopping in a nearby place with a cousin sister who had come to see Mumbai. I asked her to wear a Manipuri phanek mayeknaibi. In most of the shops we visited people were inquisitive of what we were and most of the time, we were misunderstood as Nepalis, Chinese or some foreigners. When I told them that we are from Manipur, they seemed to give a blank face though they nodded their heads. Tired of all these, at last in a shop, I called all the salesmen and chose a young and seemingly educated person to ask, “Do you know where Manipur is?”. He guessed, “In China”. He noticed my smile and tried to correct, “In Nepal”. Without correcting him, I further queried if he has gone to school and to my disbelief he said, he is a B.Com. When I said, “Manipur is a state of India”, he was like “India?”, quite disbelievingly. Then I was inclined to give a small lecture on Manipur, “If you have done geography in your high-school standards, you will know that she is in the north-eastern region of the country. In the east, there is Burma, in the west Assam, and in the north Nagaland. The capital of Manipur is Imphal. Manipuri dance is one of the famous classical dances in the world and Manipuris are the top rankers in any kind of sport in the country and have done more than the Marathis or the Gujaratis to bring laurels for the country. It is a beautiful state and is a very much part of India. India is not alone Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu or Bihar. You have got to know of other people, culture as well. At the end of the day, when you go back home, you talk to your wives and children about Manipur. And it will be nice if you can visit there when you are tired of earning money. You are most welcome there.”. I must have sounded very arrogant. But never minded, we paid our bill and came out. We further did no more shopping.

A few days later, a friend of mine suggested that we should go for the play, “yaar, what is the capital of manipur?” at Prithivi Theatre, Juhu, Mumbai. I had no idea about the play before. But sure enough, as the title suggests, I was very tempted to go.

The play, directed by Mr. Ramu Ramanthan, a noted personality in the theatre world and also editor of the Prithvi Theatre Newsletter, and produced by Kamala Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture, Juhu, Mumbai, is about the intellect level of the present day students in a college - their ignorance about general knowledge gets heightened when they did not have the faintest inkling of a friend from Manipur. The play wholly developed in college scenes, in the beginning, shows full of fun and enjoying-every-minute life styles of the college students. And as such, there is a lot of dance, music, shouting and noise. Amidst these, there comes this entrant, who hails from Manipur, trying to join the mates in the college. It was quite interesting that they seemed to depict very well the kind of experience we (my own experience and other friends of mine) had when we entered colleges/universities far from our land. “So cute! So innocent looking”, “What a name! Liung Lang or what bla bla!”, “What an accent! can’t understand”, “So shy!” etcetera are some of the ‘easy’ reactions thrown to this little boy from the ‘unknown place’. And then the purposeful ragging of all sorts of indecent stuffs make the little boy further query himself what life is all about. The rest of the students carry on their life, celebrating birthdays, going for movies, picnicking and what not. They make fun of him to his quest of what are beauty, truth and conviction in life – thriving for money and good spouses preoccupy their minds. He preaches about ‘right to live’, ‘freedom of existence’, and ‘justice to minorities’. But he finds no friend, no listener even as the country celebrates the Republic day and he respects the day in the background of a Manipuri song. Rather he was called anti-social. One find day, the police come and take him away from the college. They did not have any clue what is all about. But they have started missing him so much that they yearn about his identity. And thus, they seem to hear about the violence, strikes, bandhs, unrest, fights against the authorities in the far land. But the irony is that they even do no know “where is Manipur?” and “what is the capital of Manipur?”. They further cannot help but only miss him. Their life goes on as usual. But question remains about ‘truth’, ‘beauty’, ‘conviction’ and ‘justice’. That’s the end of play.

I was impressed and so was the crowd. We gave a standing ovation to the team. An old man, looked back at me and gave a curious smile. Funny! Later I went to speak to the artists thanking and appreciating them. To hear that I am from Manipur and had come to see the play, they were like… very excited and took me immediately to their director, Mr. Ramu Ramanathan and the main actor, Mr. Nikhil Khandekar who played the Manipuri boy. “We got the main theme from a Manipuri who had come to college to study architecture and in fact, the story is made largely on his experience. We were really moved by his nature. We also got helps from other Manipuri guys who help in gathering photographs (Meitei Nupi fighting the police), slogans (AMSU, UNLF), songs etc”, said Mr. Ramanathan,. We exchange telephone numbers and addresses. I promised them to help in need. Most of the artists including Nikhil are from the architecture college itself. I conveyed my special thanks to Nikhil for his role. When I came out, someone gestured, “I hope justice is done!”. “Well, you have done your justice!”, I quipped.

I wish there were more Manipuri students watching the play!

Ibotombi S. Longjam


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